Sustained silent reading

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Children in a Lao primary school on their first day of a Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) program. This village, in Kasi district of Laos, was the site of the first SSR program in Laos. It was set up by Big Brother Mouse, which publishes and distributes books to promote reading and literacy, with an emphasis on easy and fun books that children are eager to read.

Sustained silent reading (SSR) is a form of school-based recreational reading, or free voluntary reading, where students read silently in a designated time period every day in school. An underlying assumption of SSR is that students learn to read by reading constantly. Successful models of SSR typically allow students to select their own books and require neither testing for comprehension nor book reports. Schools have implemented SSR under a variety of names, such as "Drop Everything and Read (DEAR)", "Free Uninterrupted Reading (FUR)", or "Uninterrupted sustained silent reading (USSR)".

Value of Sustained silent reading[edit]

Advocates' perspective[edit]

According to advocates such as educational researcher Stephen Krashen, SSR has been shown to lead to gains in several literacy domains.[1] Krashen looked at a large number of studies to see what conclusions were supported by empirical evidence.

He found that in respect to reading comprehension, SSR is successful; 51 of 54 studies found that students in an SSR program scored as well as, or better than, other students in this regard. It is most successful when used for longer periods of time.[2]

Furthermore, SSR was shown to create a reading habit. Several years after participating in a program, students reported more reading.[3] One study found that a single SSR session was enough to change attitudes about reading. Long-term effects of SSR include better vocabularies, better writing skills, better spelling, and greater knowledge of literature, science, and "practical knowledge."[4]

Several studies noted that children in poor neighborhoods had less access to books at home and in libraries, and often the books available to them were not books that they wanted to read.[5] Prize-winning books were often not especially popular with children. Comic books, on the other hand, are often not available in libraries, but are popular with many boys, and reading comics was found to increase reading of other books.[6]

Three studies showed that providing rewards for reading did not improve reading development. Krashen believes this is because the presence of a reward suggests that an activity is work, and makes it less appealing.[7]

In two studies, teachers noted fewer discipline problems when an SSR program was being used.[8]

Advocates also point out that students in SSR programs have more positive attitudes toward reading than students who do not participate in SSR programs.

National Reading Panel analysis of sustained silent reading studies[edit]

The National Reading Panel (NRP) in the United States meta-analyzed all quasi-experimental and experimental studies of SSR and challenged the claim that SSR has positive effects. The panel stated that the literature contained insufficient numbers of quasi-experimental or experimental studies on SSR to validate its use as a sound educational practice. The panel also noted that the absence of quantitative evidence was not evidence against the practice in itself. They recommended further study of SSR.

Jim Trelease, educator and author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, is one of many reading advocates who has disputed the impartiality of these findings. He points out that the NRP included only 14 research tests in their summary, out of 54 studies he identified that might have been used. In 10 of the studies used by NRP, SSR students performed the same as other students, and in 4 studies, SSR students did better.[9]

However, some argue the NRP is not impartial at all. In fact, the NRP only included studies that were verifiable and with scientifically credible designs. The NRP had rigorous guidelines for the studies it would include. For example, the NRP did not include studies without control groups. The fact that the NRP only analyzed 14 SSR studies, shows that the other studies were not scientifically credible.

In the full group of 54 studies, SSR students performed better in 25, worse in 3, and the same in 24. SSR students scored worse only in short-term studies of less than 7 months. In studies that lasted one year or longer, SSR students did better in 8 of 10, and there was no difference in the other two. The NRP found that most of the SSR studies were not valid or verifiable. Many studies were simply correlational. Thus, only 14 studies actually followed guidelines that could make them statistically significant. Of these studies, SSR was found ineffective.

"Where do these negative SSR feelings come from?" Trelease asks. "Perhaps from the wonderful folks who make all those workbooks, textbooks, and score sheets that wouldn't be bought and used in class during the time students were lounging around reading books, magazines, and newspapers and getting so good at reading they might need even fewer of those sheets next year." There is some support for this charge: A blog titled "Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn't Work" is posted by the publisher of four workbooks that sell for $89.99 each.[10]

However, SSR was found ineffective by the NRP, not by publishing companies.

Sustained silent reading practices[edit]

A range of practices have been associated with SSR, and some advocates suggest that teacher models of reading behavior (i.e., teachers read while the students read), a long-term commitment to SSR, availability of multiple level, high-interest texts, and a sense of reading community are particularly relevant.

Free voluntary reading (FVR)[edit]

Free voluntary reading (FVR) or recreation reading, related to the comprehension hypothesis, is an educational theory that says many student gains in reading can be encouraged by giving them time to read what they want without too many evaluative measures. Sustained silent reading is a method of implementing recreational and FVR theory.

In popular culture[edit]

  • DEAR and SSR play a cameo role in the Ramona Quimby series of children's books by Beverly Cleary, in which young Ramona uses her assignment as an excuse not to talk to an annoying younger child.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Krashen, Stephen. "False Claims About Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Skills vs. Whole Language, and Recreational Reading". No Child Left. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
  2. ^ Krashen, S. 2007. "Extensive reading in English as a foreign language by adolescents and young adults: A meta-analysis." International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 3(2): 23-29.
  3. ^ Greaney, V., and M. Clarke. 1973. "A longitudinal study of the effects of two reading methods on leisure-time reading habits." In Reading: What of the future? ed. D. Moyle. London: United Kingdom Reading Association, pp. 107-14, cited in Free Voluntary Reading by Stephen Krashen.
  4. ^ Krashen, Stephen D., 2011. Free Voluntary Reading. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited, chapter 1.
  5. ^ Worthy, J., M. Moorman, and M. Turner. 1999. What Johnny likes to read is hard to find in school. Reading Research Quarterly 34(10): 12-27.
  6. ^ Ujiie, J., and S. Krashen. 1996. Is comic book reading harmful? Comic book reading, school achievement, and pleasure reading among seventh graders. California School Library Association Journal 19(2): 27-28.
  7. ^ Krashen, Stephen D., 2011. Free Voluntary Reading. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited, chapter 1.
  8. ^ Krashen, Stephen D., 2011. Free Voluntary Reading. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited, chapter 1.
  9. ^ Trelease, Jim, The Read-Aloud Handbook Penguin Books, 2006. E-book version, no page reference available.
  10. ^’t-work/ accessed August 12, 2013.